Class evaluations: call a METIC
Long ago, when I interviewed at Exeter for a physics teaching position, I had the privilege of watching a bunch of classes. Exeter teaches every class using the Harkenss method, which is basically 1 teacher and 12 students sitting around an oval table holding an incredibly fee flowing discussion and exploration of a novel, a math problem or a scientific experiment. One astronomy class I observed consisted of students spending 50 minutes trying to explain what they were seeing in an Astronomy Picture of the Day, and I think the teacher said something like 5 things during the whole class. It was awesome to see students so deeply engage one another in the process of discovery.
Another class was engaging in a METIC—a Midterm Effort To Improve Class, which was basically a class discussion, led mostly by students, about how everyone, students and teachers, could work to improve class. It was impressive to see a bunch of teenagers offer some pretty honest and thoughtful feedback to the teacher I observed about how to improve class, certainly one of the most powerful forms of evaluation I’ve ever seen.
I can also remember walking out of that class saying I would never have the courage just to try it and just let my students loose for 55 minutes to tell me everything they thought was bad about my teaching and the class.
Last year, I built up the courage to give it a try, and just let my kids have a free for all discussion about how to make class better. Here’s the handout I gave them to introduce the concept, since most had never done anything like this before. I borrowed most of the format of this form from my former colleague, Mark Hammond.
This year, I was inspired by a professional devleopment presentation by a couple of colleagues,@boadams and @jgough, where one of the tools they used in their presentation to draw out audience participation was polleverywhere, an awesomely free service that allows students to answer “clicker” questions using text messages, email, twitter, and everything else short of morse code. Immediately when I saw this, I thought I should give this a try in our METIC. So I crafted the following set of 4 questions and used those to start off our discussion.
The kids were blown away when they got to use their cell phones to participate in the poll, and after everyone voted, they had a great conversation about the questions and what we could do as a class to improve.
I recorded the conversation on video, and had two students, as well as myself taking notes, so I was able to get an extensive record of what was said in the conversation. I’ve password protected the video, but if you’re interested, I have no problems with you watching it. Just DM me on twitter for the password.
In the last five minutes of class, I gave each kid an index card, and asked them to write, anonymously, “one thought, question idea I had that I didn’t get to say/share is…” and turn the card in. I then took all the cards and typed up responses to the questions. If you’re interested, you can find the feedback below:
I liked this so much that I think I will try this again later in the semester.
Overall, I think this METIC serves as an excellent part of the feedback process, which, in the future, i think I will term “feedback week.” My students also are completing long form self evaluations, and final exam postmortems, both of which I’ll blog about in the near future. The value of this form of feedback I found, was mostly in hearing what students had to say to each other, but also in being able to every now and then ask a clarifying question and get instant feedback from the kids.